Lawmakers like Springdale college's approach

Posted: January 29, 2017 at 1:09 a.m.

Ten current or former legislators directed state grants to Ecclesia College from 2013 through March 2015 totaling $617,500.

The figure doesn't include $100,000 the college received where records are unclear who gave the money.

Former state Sen. Jon Woods, R-Springdale, directed $350,000 and former state Rep. Micah Neal, R-Springdale, directed $50,000 to the college. Both former legislators declined to comment for this story.

The others interviewed said they liked the Christian college's work-learn approach and were glad to help it financially.

Rep. Stephen Meeks, R-Greenbrier, directed $25,000 to Ecclesia for matching money for a federal student aid grant. Greenbrier in Faulkner County is 117 miles from Ecclesia.

"It's not unusual to get requests for General Improvement Funds from outside your district," he said. "It happens to me every day. Basically, I had visited the college before and support their mission."

Randy Alexander of Rogers was a state House member in 2013 and 2014, while he lived in Springdale. He directed $26,500 to the school.

Sen. Bart Hester, R-Cave Springs, was one of the college's largest contributors of improvement fund money in 2013 to 2014 at $60,000, but the college is in his Senate district.

"It's a very conservative school, and there's lots of conservative legislators. When I first got to the Senate, I was told the money needed to either go to municipalities or other government bodies or to nonprofit organizations. Ecclesia fit the criteria and is a worthy project," he said.

State Sen. Cecile Bledsoe, R-Rogers, also directed $60,000 to the college. Bledsoe is a native of Georgia, where the work study college concept is better established and she believes Arkansas needs that alternative.

"That would be a niche that we needed to fill," she said. "It keeps people out of debt."

Former state Rep. Debra Hobbs of Rogers gave $10,000 to the college, giving similar reasons as Bledsoe.

Rep. Jim Dotson, R-Bentonville, is an alumnus of Ecclesia College who directed $13,500 to it.

Rep. Charlie Collins, R-Fayetteville, who gave the school $14,000, noted Springdale was a major part of his House district when he was first elected. He became familiar with the college and many of its supporters during his first term.

Rep. Bob Ballinger, R-Hindsville, gave the school $8,500. The school is outside his district, but in the region and draws students who are his constituents, he said.

"My feeling and sense is the college got wrapped up in something it had nothing to do with," he said.

NW News on 01/29/2017